Italian traditions: Italian traditions Quercigliole Race in Ripalimosani, Campobasso
- WTI Magazine #104 Jun 16, 2018
Ripalimosani is a village located about 7 km. from Campobasso where, as in the whole area, already in very ancient times there were Samnite settlements. It was founded as a medieval urban agglomeration because of the migration of the inhabitants of Limosano, another nearby village, who took refuge in the area to defend themselves from the raids of war around the year one thousand. The sandstone ridge that characterizes the site, sloping towards the Ingotte valley on the right of the Biferno river, was, in fact, originally the element of safety and protection.
The first certain document regarding the country dates back to 1039. It is the Parchment Montaganese in which it was ratified the concession by the Princes of Benevento to foreigners and inhabitants of Montagano of this portion of land making explicit reference to the territory of Ripae. The town then passed through several noble dynasties between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many of which seem to have ruled the community with great violence and arrogance, fuelling deep distinctions between the social classes and arriving at a real phenomenon of banditry. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the town also benefited from a quiet economic situation, and overall between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries it was enriched with many monuments and artistic heritage of importance.
Among the events that characterize the life of the community, the "Palio delle Quercigliole" (Quercigliole Race), which takes place on August 12, is a horse race that starts from the nearby track in Contrada Quercigliole and, continuing for about a kilometer, arrives at the Chapel of Our Lady of the Snow. The origins of the ceremony are still poorly defined. Among the first certain documents that make explicit mention of the ceremony, there is a manifesto of 1907 that celebrates the centenary of the Race. But there are documents found at the Library of Capuchin Friars of the Church "Sacred Heart" of Campobasso, which would trace the Palio in 1765 and even a document that would report the origins of the Palio to 1743.
The race takes place in a flat area that runs along the track, and the last part of the course, which is uphill, takes place as an elimination race. As in other Palii, the knights ride without saddles, and represent the six districts in which the town is divided. The districts, challenging each other in the ritual competition on horseback, compete for the privilege of entering the chapel of the Madonna. The winning horse and rider are allowed into the sacred building, after having received the congratulations of the jury. The horse, duly solicited with the whip on the withers, is then kneeled before the icon of Our Lady of the Snow.
The Palio, however, is only the culmination of a ceremony linked to Marian devotion that runs through the summer months of the community, even if today the participation in these more strictly devotional parts of the ritual is limited to women who participate most in the life of the local Church, or who by family tradition have particular devotion to Our Lady of the Quercigliole, as everyone calls her.
At dawn on the first Sunday of July, devotees go on foot from Ripalimosani and the villages adjacent to the church, in the locality of Quercigliole, with an itinerary of about two kilometers, to accompany in procession the Statue of Our Lady of the Snow to the parish church dedicated to the Assumption, to be exposed here to the veneration of the faithful. On August 11, the Statue of Our Lady of the Snow is taken back by the same procession to the place where the chapel stands, where the Palio of the following day will be held. On August 12, the day of the festival, many people flocked back to the hill where the church stands for the outing that takes place while waiting for the horse race to be held in the afternoon.
In recent years the processional alternation - from Quercigliole to the mother church and back - has been so to speak 'disturbed' by the closure of the parish church dedicated to the Virgin Mary Assumed that has suffered damage probably due to land settlements and was closed for security reasons. The statue is however brought to the centre of the village, in the adjacent Church of San Giacomo and from there brought back to the Quercigliole Chapel on the 11th of July.
Part of the devout population, however, complains about this situation and uses the variation in the ceremonial scheme to point out the gravity of a country that has seen its Mother Church closed for three years without it being known when and if work on its restoration and rearrangement will begin. In the Palio of the Quercigliole, the six districts in which the town has been divided challenge each other: Villaggi, Castello, Santa Lucia, San Rocco, Piazza, Morgione. It is, however, a reorganization of the components and the late town districts, prepared around the seventies of the twentieth century, by some scholars of local history engaged in the work of enhancement and revitalization of local traditions.
Presumably, in fact, the representatives of the most prominent families in the community originally challenged each other. Today the ceremony records the participation of professional jockeys from the nearby racetracks of Agnano and Corridonia, and horses bred mostly by owners of Campania or Lower Molise, in many cases linked to the circuit of the Carresi, the competitions of oxen-drawn and horse-drawn carts that characterize the area. This denotes a progressive detachment of the local community from the knowledge and practices that characterized the festive system and is probably at the origin of a lesser involvement in the festival.
In recent years, the Palio has not been the subject of any animal-rights controversy, as has happened with other ritual competitions involving equids. This is probably due to the fact that the route is entirely on dirt road, of short duration and driven at very low speeds. For the people of Ripesi it represents today an occasion for the outing that precedes the development of the Palio during which they consume typical food of the festive regime.
Many believe that there is too much separation between the local population and the professionals who create the Palio, almost to signal a progressive spectacularization of the race, distancing from the real life of the community.
However, in recent years, a renewed management, largely entrusted to a Party Committee composed for a time almost exclusively of women and more recently by young people, seems to open to a revitalization of the festive system with a more lively fan base, especially among young people. The project is to get back to organize the festival through entirely local resources, i.e. raising horses in the districts and with local knights. This could, in fact, renew the pact that historically links this feast to the identity that has been honored, but to date it still seems to be a project that has been enunciated and hoped for, rather than a concrete perspective.